A visibly angry Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu launched a diatribe against Yisrael Beytenu chief Avigdor Liberman in the early hours of Thursday morning after the Knesset voted to disband and send Israel back to the polls on September 17. With Liberman having prevented Netanyahu from form a majority coalition, the prime minister blamed the Yisrael Beytenu party chief for “dragging the country to unnecessary elections.”
“Avigdor Liberman is now part of the left. He brings down right-wing governments. Don’t believe him again. I will tell you about it tomorrow. Maybe I will tell you some things you don’t know. He deceived the electorate just to get votes,” Netanyahu charged.
Claiming that he had won the last election on April 9 — despite only receiving 35 seats, the same as the Blue and White party, and failing to form a coalition — Netanyahu said he would win the next election too.
“The public in Israel made a clear decision. It decided that I will be prime minister, that the Likud will lead the government, a right-wing government. The public voted for me to lead the state of Israel,” Netanyahu told reporters immediately after the vote to dissolve the Knesset and set new elections for September 17.
“Many of the parties said they will support Netanyahu. And the public made a clear statement… Liberman said he would support me as prime minister but he had no intention from the first moment to do what he said he would do,” Netanyahu said.
“All of the requests and demands of Yisrael Beytenu were repeatedly rejected. I presented a proposal. He rejected it. He wanted, in the most clear way, to bring down the government. He did it to scrape a few more seats which he thinks he can get. For the second time he has dragged the country to unnecessary elections due to his own political ego,” he continued, referring to Liberman’s resignation as defense minister last November.
The prime minister also referred to trilateral meetings of top security officials from Israel, Russia and the US to be held in Jerusalem next month, which were announced minutes before the vote took place.
“We have a lot of things that we want to do,” Netanyahu said. “This is what we want to do, not unnecessary elections… A meeting like this [security confab] has never taken place before in Israel. Never.”
Netanyahu concluded by saying that the Likud “will run a sharp and clear election campaign, and we will win.”
Before the vote, Liberman had accused Netanyahu of “surrendering to the ultra-Orthodox.” While Yisrael Beytenu would have joined a right-wing government, he said, it would not join a “halachic coalition” — a reference to Jewish religious law.
Earlier on Wednesday night, Netanyahu issued his “final offer” to Liberman’s Yisrael Beytenu and the ultra-Orthodox parties on the contentious enlistment bill, which was promptly turned down by the key prospective coalition partners and drew an angry response from some of the premier’s longstanding Haredi allies.
Hours before a midnight deadline to form the coalition, both the ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism and Yisrael Beytenu turned down Netanyahu’s offer that would have advanced the Defense Ministry version of a bill regulating the draft of the ultra-Orthodox into the military, but would not guarantee it would ever pass into law.
Liberman had repeatedly said he backs Netanyahu for prime minister, but would only join the government if there was a commitment to pass, unaltered, a version of the bill promoted during the previous Knesset. That draft of the bill is opposed by ultra-Orthodox parties, which want to soften its terms. Netanyahu needed both Yisrael Beytenu and the Knesset’s ultra-Orthodox parties to form a majority government.
According to a Likud statement, Netanyahu proposed that as soon as his government is formed, the Knesset would vote on the Liberman-backed draft of the legislation in its first reading. After the bill was approved, it would proceed to the necessary second and third plenum votes by “mutual consent,” the Likud party said in a statement, without elaborating.
Netanyahu’s party put pressure on the ultra-Orthodox to back the proposal, noting that the government must advance an amended bill, under a Supreme Court order, by July or current arrangements will expire and thousands of ultra-Orthodox men are liable to be drafted into the army.
“This means that the ultra-Orthodox will have to choose between Liberman’s law and a return to the original law, which means full mobilization for the ultra-Orthodox as for all parts of the public,” the Likud statement warned.
“The proposal has now been submitted to the parties and we await their positive response in order to form a right-wing government tonight and prevent unnecessary elections,” it added.
United Torah Judaism leader Yaakov Litzman swiftly rejected the offer on Wednesday night, telling Channel 12 it would not accept any agreement based on Liberman’s demand.
The Shas party, headed by Aryeh Deri, received approval from its councils of rabbis to back the compromise, according to television reports. The Walla news site said Degel HaTorah, a faction within United Torah Judaism that holds four of the party’s eight seats, also agreed to the offer.
“We have compromised,” Litzman said. “If Liberman won’t accept our offer we will have to go to elections, but we cannot budge further.”
A UTJ source later told the TV network that in protest of Netanyahu’s offer, the party could support another Likud candidate for prime minister.
Liberman turned down Netanyahu’s final proposal, saying that his position on the conscription law was “well-known and is still valid.”
Immediately before the announcement of the offer, Likud said it had finalized coalition deals with 60 MKs, in what was seen as a possible sign the party was considering a non-majority government.
But that claim quickly unraveled after would-be coalition partner Moshe Kahlon said his Kulanu party had not signed any deal, and UTJ pushed back against Netanyahu.
The Knesset dissolved itself shortly after midnight, in a vote organized by Netanyahu, preventing President Reuven Rivlin from tasking another lawmaker with forming a coalition.